Despite advice to the contrary, the Grand Rapids City Commission declined to adopt a proposed ordinance that would streamline the installation of “small cell” wireless infrastructure around the city.
In doing so Tuesday, June 4, the city is not expected to be in compliance with recent state and federal legislation by the June 9 deadline. The newly enacted laws, which limit a local government’s ability to regulate the installation of wireless infrastructure, are meant to “encourage 5G development.”
At the center of the issue is the installation of a dense network of small cell wireless utilities on telephone poles, traffic signals, signs and other similar structures in the public right-of-way. The infrastructure is part of the wireless industry’s shift to next-generation technology (5G).
Legislation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in January (Act 365), and the state of Michigan in March, established regulations and fee limits for the installation of the small cell utilities.
The proposed ordinance would have put Grand Rapids in compliance with state law. It would have let the city be “as restrictive as possible under state law,” and allow staff to choose which kinds of small cell utilities could be installed to maintain the default design of the right-of-ways.
The ordinance failed Tuesday by a 3-3 vote. Commissioners Jon O’Connor, Senita Lenear and Ruth Kelly were in opposition, while Commissioner Nathaniel Moody was absent and thus didn’t vote.
Before Tuesday’s vote, the commission heard concerns from a dozen residents before voting. Most of those opposed to the ordinance are worried about the potential health risks associated with more wireless microwave radio-frequency radiation in the city as a result of this technology.
“Please help protect the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Grand Rapids by placing a moratorium on small cell tower installations in public right-of-ways until safe levels of non-ionizing wireless radiation are determined by independent research,” wrote Jeanine Susan Deal, director of the advocacy group Michigan for Safe Technology.
Commissioner Lenear said those concerns and a lack of knowledge by the commission caused her pause. She asked about the possibility of a moratorium, but was told by an attorney representing the city that such action was prohibited by the state law signed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder.